Many are comparing this year’s crop of running backs to the tremendous receiver class we had a year ago. We’ve already covered the home run reliant Tevin Coleman, underrated David Cobb, unknown Terrell Watson, and taken a box score look at the top of the group in relation to production. One player not getting a lot of burn here or in the draft universe is T.J. Yeldon.
The 6’2”, 220 pound back is part of the apparently never-ending stream of NFL-caliber Alabama backs. He emerged at age 19 by posting an 1,100 yard/13 total touchdown season while sharing a backfield with Eddie Lacy. Injuries and the incorporation of Derrick Henry dampened his final season of production; Yeldon finished 2014 with just 979 rushing yards while his yards per carry dropped a full yard from his previous pace.
Alabama has been a running back factory of sorts recently, having three backs selected in the first two rounds over the past four seasons. With that kind of talent constantly funneling through the system, there’s a different type of committee created, one possibly generated by talent rather than role. Using the Box Score App, here’s how Yeldon’s career measures up against those previous Alabama backs. I’ve also included his running mate for the past two seasons, Derrick Henry, for good measure.
In only three of these 14 seasons did a back average over 15 carries per game, so concerns about “workhorse ability” may be overblown. Yeldon and Mark Ingram produced their best seasons as sophomores, while Trent Richardson and Lacy closed with their strongest seasons. Lacy was a guy whose stock seemed to drop throughout the pre-draft process due to both injuries and by the presence of Yeldon himself. Despite that, Lacy has turned in two great seasons in the NFL. On the other hand, Richardson is on the verge of never being spoken of in fantasy circles again. Yeldon’s final season was the weakest of departing seasons, which may or may not be problematic going forward.
Yeldon is widely considered a future committee back and he was treated as one in college –whether because of his talent alone, or just a team surplus of talent. Does being in a committee at the collegiate level have any future relevance on NFL outlook?
Yeldon closed college with just a 36 percent share of the Alabama rushing yards. Although Alabama rushed for 206.6 yards per game, ranked 26th in the nation, that lack of market share is a red flag for me. A large market share of rushing yards doesn’t necessarily point to success, but a low number is a potential issue. Final year production has been the best barometer for gauging production at the next level, so I went and pulled every running back drafted since 2001 that had a final season rushing market share under 50 percent, his raw rushing total for those teams that had stellar overall run games, and their subsequent top-24 and top-12 scoring PPR seasons in the NFL thus far.
|Player||College||Year||Pick||FY Yards||FY MSYDS||Top24Yrs||Top12yrs|
|Joseph Addai||Lousiana State||2005||30||911||0.47||3||3|
|Ryan Williams||Virginia Tech||2010||38||1655||0.31||0||0|
|Christine Michael||Texas A&M||2012||62||899||0.28||0||0|
|Steve Slaton||West Virginia||2007||89||1051||0.47||1||1|
|Justin Fargas||Southern California||2002||96||1322||0.39||1||0|
|Devonta Freeman||Florida State||2013||103||1016||0.38||0||0|
|Robert Turbin||Utah St.||2011||106||1517||0.48||0||0|
|Mike Goodson||Texas A&M||2008||111||406||0.49||0||0|
|Joe McKnight||Southern California||2009||112||1014||0.49||0||0|
|Leon Washington||Florida State||2005||117||430||0.40||0||0|
|Tashard Choice||Georgia Tech||2007||122||1379||0.06||0||0|
|LaBrandon Toefield||Louisiana St.||2002||132||475||0.34||0||0|
|Chris Thompson||Florida State||2012||154||687||0.33||0||0|
|Evan Royster||Penn State||2010||177||1014||0.49||0||0|
|Thomas Clayton||Kansas St.||2006||186||1177||0.46||0||0|
|Allen Bradford||Southern California||2010||187||767||0.35||0||0|
|Jonathan Dwyer||Georgia Tech||2009||188||1395||0.37||0||0|
|Mike James||Miami (FL)||2012||189||621||0.37||0||0|
|Theo Riddick||Notre Dame||2012||199||917||0.41||0||0|
|Michael Smith||Utah St.||2011||212||870||0.27||0||0|
|Anthony Allen||Georgia Tech||2010||225||1316||0.39||0||0|
|Edwin Baker||Michigan St.||2011||250||665||0.33||0||0|
Keep in mind that a top-12 season also registers as a top 24 season in this table. Lacy again pops up as a positive comp and Maurice Jones-Drew is the crown jewel of the group. But 49 different backs made the list, with just 12 of the 49 producing a top 24 season and just five of those 12 doing it multiple times. In regard to elite production, only six of the names here went on to produce a top 12 scoring season with just four doing it more than once. For the majority of the group, most of these backs also found themselves in NFL committees. In the cases of a backfield having two strong backs at once, raw production doesn’t appear to provide any hope either, as some of the highest collegiate producers and draft selections went on to disappoint in the NFL.
More troublesome is that although we used an arbitrary line at 50 percent of the team total rushing market share, only two backs under 40 percent of their team rushing total went on to post a top 24 season, each just once, and none of them produced a top 12 finish. Here’s a list of 2015 running back prospects with final year market share totals under 50 percent.
This group isn’t exactly the cream of the class, and you see potentially bad news for others down the line. Yeldon first came to my attention in this post that looked at explosive scoring plays. In that outlook, 78.4 percent of his collegiate scores came on runs inside the 10-yard line, with just four of them coming from 20 yards or longer. His overall peripheral production is concerning, and while he looks the part, I’ll be really curious to see how he scores physically. The combine might shed light on his lack of explosive plays and provide some clues about his ability to be a standalone back in the NFL. I’m also intrigued to see how he scores at the combine because if he tests out really well, maybe to some degree he’s the running back version of Odell Beckham, where his production just never intersected with the athlete. I’m not writing him off just yet, but he will definitely be a polarizing prospect this summer at a position littered with options.